Tuesday, July 12, 2016

No Outcasts

The Most Reverend Edmond Lee Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church died today. His death is a loss to Integrity USA as an organization and to me personally. Bishop Browning’s stance that there would be no outcasts in The Episcopal Church was a costly position for him to take. He was criticized by those in our church who considered themselves to be of a more traditional bent. His ministry is summarized here: RIP: Bishop Edmond Lee Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop He made room in The Episcopal Church for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who found their way to a faith community where they could be who God created them to be.
Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning with Integrity leaders
L to R: The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, The Most Reverend Edmond Lee Browning, The Rev. Michael Hopkins, The Rev. Canon Susan Russell

Bishop Browning’s vision of no outcasts was a broad vision. In addition to including those who were LGBT, he also embraced those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. He was the chief consecrator of the first woman bishop in the entire Anglican Communion, The Right Reverend Barbara Harris. As an African-American, Bishop Harris would break even more boundaries to the full inclusion of all in our church.

I met Bishop Browning during the General Convention of 1991, held in Phoenix, Arizona. Ours was an "official/unofficial" meeting brought about by some of the nastiness being directed at LGBT folks at that convention. My “poker face” proved to be more revealing than I thought at one of the morning Eucharist’s and a bishop at our “table church table” shared his concerns about me with my bishop who got in touch with me. Out of all of that I found myself in a meeting with Presiding Bishop Browning, my bishop, and the officers of the House of Bishops. When asked what was wrong and what we wanted, I had a few simple requests on behalf of my kindred LGBT souls. We were weary of the nastiness being directed at us by clergy and laity alike who really did not want us included in the life of The Episcopal Church. The world and the church were very different then. We wanted to be treated with the respect accorded us in the vows of our baptismal covenant. Progress had begun and with it came some of the first positive legislation about LGBT issues, not to mention the fact that the first openly LGBT Deputy to General Convention came out on the floor of the House of Deputies. This was also the General Convention where the first true public hearing on LGBT issues was held. We had as a church begun talking about who we were. The speakers were The Reverend Sam Candler and The Rev. Kendall Harmon. Sam was our champion.

Some months later I would become the first President of Integrity to meet with a Presiding Bishop. I traveled to New York and proceeded to 815 Second Avenue and was escorted to the Offices of the Presiding Bishop. I was a little nervous, but I need not have been. Bishop Browning embraced me with his loving aura and sat with me on a sofa in his office as we talked. It was not unlike carrying on a conversation with one’s grandfather. (Although I realized later that he was only twenty years older than I….it must have been the trappings of his office that made me think he was older than he was.)

Subsequent to that meeting would happen the first and historic meeting of an Integrity Board of Directors with The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He was, at least at first, a bit hesitant to have the meeting publicized, but we were clear that it would be documented in "The Voice of Integrity" which was our official publication at the time.

Another first and an expression of his vision of no outcasts was his acceptance to be our speaker and guest at our next Integrity Convention (yes, we used to have those regularly!). When he stated from the pulpit at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, that he really didn’t care what the press thought, we got a glimpse of his ardent support for us and his refusal for us to be outcast by the church.

We (and I) have lost a great friend and ally with the death of Bishop Browning. The Episcopal Church has lost one of its giants. Edmond L. Browning now rests in the bosom of the God who created, redeemed and sustained him throughout a long and productive ministry. By now he has heard the words “well done, good and faithful servant.” May he rest in peace and rise in glory. May we ponder our loss even as we celebrate a ministry from which we received innumerable benefits.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Sunday, June 12, 2016

In Response to the tragedy in Orlando:

“We pray for our enemies and those who wish us harm.  Deliver them AND US from hatred, cruelty and revenge.”

I am having a difficult time praying this prayer right now.  This morning I was in the chapel at Kanuga Conference Center near Hendersonville, North Carolina.  I was getting ready to deliver the sermon for the close of the 25th Annual HIV/AIDS Retreat, sponsored by the Province IV Network of AIDS Ministries when I learned of the terrorist attack at a large gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 52 dead and 50 wounded.

The entire weekend had been about HIV/AIDS including the impact of those deaths from the early days and still today.  Now we were to deal with impact of 52 sudden deaths – deaths of ordinary people who were enjoying a social evening….thinking that they were safe at a nightclub many frequented on a regular basis.  Some of you reading this now may have been there – or a place like it at one time.

It is clear that, while it is being investigated as a terrorist attack and is the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history, this is a hate crime.  And the hate that prompts such actions on the part of this killer and others is the hatred of those who are different.  Being different should never result in losing one’s life.

Yet it has and continues to be so.  “Being different” is why working toward finding a cure for and funding prevention against infection for HIV/AIDS was delayed, turning an epidemic into a worldwide pandemic.  “Being different” is what caused the tangential epidemic of “Afraids,” causing so many tragic, senseless deaths.  Too soon.  So young.

Apparently the hatred was directed at people who were either LGBT or were friends and colleagues of folks who were LGBT.  We seem to have become obsessed with acts of hatred against people who are somehow different, whether it is because of sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, gender expression, gender identity or any other difference that for some is beyond what they will allow to simply exist.

Integrity USA decries these murders.  Integrity USA decries all acts of violence that are directed at any of God’s children but particularly those that are directed against those children of God who are different, no matter what reason they might be seen as different.

It would be easy to be “the same” and return hate and violence with equal levels of hatred and violence.  Let us be of the same mind as Christ and choose love and peace.  Let us not be intimidated into isolation and shame but let us stand together in pride.  Now, more than ever, we need to continue to let our light so shine that the truth will have won out and love will win.

Pray for the victims of this mass shooting my kindred in Christ.  Pray for the families and loved ones who now grieve. Pray for the recovery of the wounded.  Pray for our nation that the hatred which infects us will be taken from our hearts and minds.  Pray most of all that God’s infinite and indiscriminate love will ultimately prevail over the evil that has caused the deaths of dozens….in Orlando, in Charleston, in Columbine, and everywhere that innocent blood has been shed in the name of hate.

May the dead rest in peace and rise in glory.  May the wounded experience healing of body, mind and soul.  May the living strive for an end to such senseless violence.

Bruce Garner, President

Integrity USA

Monday, May 23, 2016

Is the ministry of Integrity still needed?

Is the ministry of Integrity still needed?

You are probably aware that I have been posing a series of questions on the Friday Flash each week for the last few weeks. All of them focused on the way or lens with which you view your circumstances as an LGBTQ person where you live as well as how you view the situation for where others live. My point was to get us all to try and see that the rest of the world may not be the same as our own when it comes to being able to live the lives with which God blessed us.

My methodology – and yes there has been one – was to prepare for critical questions about the future of Integrity USA as an organization. I frequently hear the following or an equivalent: “Why do we still need Integrity?” “Is there still a reason for Integrity’s mission?” “Do we still need Integrity?”

I think the best way to respond to those questions is to share a few observations with you about “LGBTQ life” in this country. (And be forewarned that this is a longer than usual column, but I ask you to keep reading.) Please consider the following:

There are still dioceses in The Episcopal Church where priests are forbidden to marry same gender couples. The Diocese of Central Florida comes to mind, but there are some in Province II and other provinces as well.

In my own diocese there is a rector who refuses to officiate at same gender marriages, which is his prerogative under our polity, but he also refuses to allow same gender marriages to be performed at all in “his” church. Dear friends of mine have finally left after serving there for 25 years because they could not be married in their own church.

Openly LGBT clergy have greater difficulty finding employment that fulfils their calling as ordained persons in many dioceses in our church. Deployment is not bias free in our church.

In some jurisdictions of the secular world, a same gender couple who marries on Saturday can be terminated from employment on Monday just because they identified as LGBT, despite the likelihood they were model employees. We may now have an openly gay man as Secretary of the Army (Eric Fanning: An Openly Gay Man Runs the Army ) but that doesn’t suddenly make life good for all of us.

One need only look to the State of North Carolina to see that the quest for full equality as LGBTQ persons is alive and well. Mississippi has tried to enact similar legislation. We would have had the most discriminatory laws in the nation in my home state of Georgia had not the Governor vetoed the bill. (Supporters of the bigoted legislation have vowed to bring it up again next year.)

As much as we might stereotypically believe, such attitudes are NOT limited to the southern portion of the United States! Consider the story of a Vermont teen who is a transgender male and what he had to contend with in his high school. The following link takes you to the story in the NY Times: Transgender Bathroom Debate Turns Personal at a Vermont High School

Consider also how things differ based on just being in a particular city in a state. In a large city, LGBTQ folks can often be themselves without fear of harassment. They can also get involved in the political process and express themselves accordingly. Such is not the case in smaller towns, even in the same state.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would allow for discriminatory practices based on one’s sincerely held religious beliefs. It is the First Amendment Defense Act, also known as FADA, but is in fact a thinly veiled means to allow discrimination.

If you have followed LOGO TV’s show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” you have witnessed the pain some contestants have suffered because they are LGBT. The creator of the show has made it clear that he intended to show how life was in different places and highlight the pain contestants had borne. (There is more than one way to educate people…..even subliminally!) Take this link to RuPaul’s own comments about the socially enlightening nature of the show and how it highlights the vast differences in where people live: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Highlights the Struggle for Acceptance

Where one lives, works and worships has a direct influence on how or if that person can be the person God created them to be.

The forces behind these discriminatory actions, at least in the South, are faith communities and how they influence the political processes in their respective jurisdictions. This is clearly so in Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi. The loudest voices of discrimination come from churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelically oriented faith communities. This does not always mean those faith communities have the largest numbers in terms of support, but it does mean that they are being the “loudest” about the issues.

How many among us are equipped to, willing and able to share our own faith community’s perspective on LGBTQ issues? Do we know how to witness to our own faith in one-on-one settings much less in a legislative committee hearing? When was the last time any of us gave witness to the power of Jesus Christ in our own lives? It isn’t easy, but it is something God has asked of us. It’s time to get “quietly loud” about our own faith.

If we live in certain places, the issues of being discriminated against may never cross our radar screens. Most of us do not live in those certain places. Most of us live in a place of uncertainty about how much of who we really are can be shown to the world at large and even to our own faith communities. It is all a result of the lens through which you see your own life and the life of others, especially those who do not live where you live.

The answer to the questions about a continued need for the ministry of Integrity might be coming more clear by now. From my own perspective, there absolutely remains a strong need for our ministry…..perhaps more so than other times in our history. I would ask you to ponder the question yourselves.

Integrity has a role in equipping the saints to share a different faith story about LGBTQ issues than lawmakers and policy makers in the secular realm have heard before. We can help provide the resources LGBTQ folks need to go into a hearing room and speak about a potentially discriminatory piece of legislation and do so from their own faith based perspective. We are blessed to have non-LGBTQ allies who stand up for and speak for us. But it is time we used our own voices to combat discrimination.

Integrity has a role in working with parishes and dioceses to help others understand first and fore most that LGBTQ members of our church are not very different from themselves…..we are all blessed by the same God, feel the rain from the same sky, enjoy the warmth from the same sun…..we have lives often just as boring as their own!!

Being able to marry the person we wish has not resolved all of the ills of discrimination and bigotry in the church or wider society.

Integrity has a role in helping create safe spaces for our own LGBTQ youth to exit their various closets and take their places in the warmth of the God who created and loves them…..exactly as they are. Those of us who are in leadership roles in our parishes do well to remember that young people are always observing us and that they are likely aware that we are LGBTQ ourselves. We teach when we do not always know we are teaching.

So, in response to the questions about whether there is still a need and purpose for Integrity, I must profess a very loud and firm YES!

I hope you agree….even if you live in the most LGBTQ friendly and safe space on the planet. I hope you agree and will join Integrity if you are not a member. I hope you will be even more supportive if you are a member by sharing your time and financial resources. I hope you will be an advocate in seeking new members of Integrity to join you/us in what is an important and lifesaving ministry.

We all pray and hope that there will be a time when there is no need for Integrity or any other organization seeking justice for all of God’s children. That time has not arrived. We continue to pray and work with the resources God has blessed us to use in the form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mission and Vision of Integrity USA

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We greet you in the name of our Risen Lord and hope that these fifty days of Easter are times of joy for you.

At our most recent meeting of Integrity USA’s Board of Directors, we looked at the mission statement and vision statement for Integrity USA.  We felt that they needed to be updated, refined somewhat and better reflect where Integrity’s mission is directed for the foreseeable future.

We redirected the focus of Integrity USA in a more outward direction and less introspective.  The Good News of the Gospel is to be carried forth into the world….not pondered!  We wanted the organizational mission and vision to help guide and direct us toward where we and those we seek to reach should be in a world where there is still injustice and prejudice towards LGBTQ people. We created what we think will provide new energy toward addressing the still-present issues of discrimination and exclusion in our own nation and still, even in some parts of our church.

Mission Statement
As an Episcopal LGBTQ organization, Integrity USA proclaims and embodies
the all-inclusive love of God through worship, education, and advocacy.

Vision Statement
Integrity envisions a church where people
of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions
are welcomed and affirmed.

We invite you to join us in both mission and vision as we seek to bring the fully inclusive Good News of Jesus Christ to all.

Integrity USA Board of Directors: (l to r) The Rev. Carolyn Woodall, The Rev. Gwen Fry,
S.Wayne Mathis, DeAnna Bosch, Bruce Garner, Mel Soriano
Photo taken at All Saints Church, Atlanta.

Bruce Garner
President, Integrity USA

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Anti-LGBTQ legislation masquerading as “religious freedom” legislation

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We continue to see a backlash in more than one state legislature over the Supreme Court decision legalizing same gender marriage.  What are we, as Integrity and The Episcopal Church to say about that?  How shall we speak to this?

As The Episcopal Church, our position has been made clear via numerous General Convention resolutions that LGBTQ persons are children of God and that we are entitled to be fully included in all aspects of the life of The Episcopal Church.  There are prohibitions against discrimination that apply to both lay and clergy members of our church.  In short, the guidelines are in place that protect us from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

We are not na├»ve enough to claim that, despite decades of witness, education and ministry, all the doors are open to all of us everywhere at the parish and diocesan level.  We know that some bishops will still not allow clergy to perform same gender marriages.  We know of parishes where an LGBTQ clergy person would not be called as rector.  We even know of places where lay people are excluded from the life of their dioceses because they are LGBTQ.  Our struggle continues.

We are also aware that despite being guaranteed the right to marry, we can lose our jobs, our children, our families, and much else because we availed ourselves of that right and rite.  (The problem is much more prevalent in the south than elsewhere in our church and nation.)

We have spoken about these issues, having made statements at the church-wide level and receiving the media spotlight on several occasions.  Even though The Episcopal Church may not have the leverage or impact that major national corporations have been able to use with state legislatures and/or government leaders I hope we will continue to speak out at all levels.

So, again, what are we to say to these unpleasant and discriminatory actions?

Legislatures have been hearing from faith communities on all the issues of LGBTQ inclusion.  The loudest and most vocal of those voices against inclusion have been from more conservative branches of Christendom.  That has been especially true in the south where voices such as those of the Southern Baptist Convention remain strong.  Not surprisingly, we have heard every argument against our inclusion and in support of discrimination against us that we frequently heard in our own General Conventions over the last 40 years.

We have a challenge before us and that is to be as vocal and as gently loud as we need to be in proclaiming a different view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reading of Scripture that does not support our exclusion.  This is a challenge best met at the local level.  Integrity USA can and has and will continue to make statements about discrimination against LGBTQ folks.  But it will take translating those statements and positions into the voice of local constituents if there is to be any chance of influencing members of state legislatures, governors and other government leaders.

Our Vice President of National Affairs, The Rev. Gwen Fry has been involved in several locations in responding to the issues raised by discriminatory legislation passed in North Carolina and Mississippi.  Her experience and resources are available to anyone who can use them.  Integrity USA will do its best to provide resources to our members and friends at the local level for this new frontal attack on who we are as children of God. Our bishops in North Carolina and Mississippi have also spoken out.  (See the websites of those dioceses.)

As I see it, the true key to our success in derailing damaging and hurtful legislation and actions is for us to put a human face on the issue.  I’ve found that many have little problem in dismissing and/or ignoring an “issue.”  But when that issue is before them with a face, eyes, ears, nose and a warm smile, it is much more difficult to dismiss.   A local face, someone known from childhood, from church, from school, makes dismissing the issue even more difficult.

I live in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised.  He reminded us that none of us is free until all of us are free.  We have work to do.

Let us all pray without ceasing for our sisters and brothers who must endure yet another dehumanizing action on the part of those who should be looking after their welfare.  Let us pray that they will have the courage and strength of conviction to witness to the power of Jesus Christ in their lives.  Let us pray that they will be strong in the face of those who refuse to respect the dignity of every human being, those who avoid seeking and serving Christ in all persons and those who have the most difficulty in loving their neighbor as they love themselves.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A reflection on the Statement by the Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops

This blog post refers to the statement by the Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops. 

There is great irony in the last paragraph of the statement. "Despite the pain and distress we feel at our own differences, yet we strongly affirm that we are united in striving for the highest degree of communion possible in the spirit of St Paul’s teaching of the nature of the body of Christ and our need for one another in Christ, where no one can say, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12.21)."

Yet the statement issued by the bishops sends the message to same gender couples and to LBGTQ people:  We have no need of you.

Blaming the situation on a failure of enough people to continue to study the issue is ludicrous.  There are and always will be some who steadfastly refuse to engage in discussion and who will try and prevent others from doing so as well.  I've seen the same situation in The Episcopal Church for years.  Failure on the part of someone to learn more about their sisters and brothers in Christ is not an excuse for treating those same sisters and brothers as "less than."  Jesus provided no exceptions when he required us to love God and love each other as we love ourselves.

How much longer will this charade about changing the teaching on marriage go on anyway?  It's not like we have not seen changes in the past....remarriage after divorce comes to mind.  Jesus mentions marriage twice in the Gospels. Once is part of a discussion about adultery and the other in a discussion about divorce.  I don't find that a ringing endorsement of what we call marriage.  If He had greater concerns, I would have thought it would have been mentioned.  Jesus greatest concern was right relationship with God and with each other.   Marriage, regardless of the gender of the parties involved does not always represent a "right relationship."

If these bishops want to actually learn, why do they not just look at the lifelong, committed, monogamous and faithful relationships of hundreds of same gender couples over the years?   What better model could they have?  And remember, these couples have remained faithful despite continuing to be treated as second class citizens.

I laughed to myself recently when the daily office readings were from Genesis and included the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah, Jacob and the children born to him from three different wives.  We look to Scripture for models of marriage for today and we see nothing like even secular models.

Will we ever get over our fear and ignorance of what we don't know enough to learn from those who can teach us?  I'm not convinced.

May God continue to bless those couples who are forced to remain on the sidelines as others determine their marital fates.  May God give them the patience to endure.

Bruce Garner
President, Integrity USA

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Diocese of Texas Opens the Door to Equality for All

This past weekend marked a monumental shift in the Diocese of Texas in terms of equality for ALL. It also opened the doors for unlimited opportunities to advance the mission of the Church. With a vote of 499 in favor and 144 against the reordering and restructuring of the Diocesan Canons, a 19 year battle for the soul of the diocese has drawn to a close.

While there have been many on both sides of this battle, two progressives who deserve to be singled out are Muffie Moroney and The Rev. Jim Stockton. Both Moroney and Rev. Stockton can be described as tenaciously loyal to the ideal of justice and to the church that they love and serve. In the end it was current Bishop C Andrew Doyle who forged a new unity - a unity that will allow the diocese to finally put divisions on marriage and LGBTQ rights behind us as we are given the opportunity to move into mission without bringing along nearly two decades of harmful political baggage. Ultimately, this vote was more about mission and less about marriage.

There are several key points that highlight the effect of this council action.

1. This restructuring and reordering of the canons, treats all marriages equally. No longer will married LGBTQ clergy be automatically disqualified from serving in this diocese.

2. Parishes will be able to call the priests of their own choosing. Hiring can now be based on a person's abilities, skill and job performance.

3. The responsibility for moral discipline as it pertains to the breaking of the marriage vows within the ranks of the clergy is returned to the office of the bishop.

Even more wide sweeping than these direct effects, this council action changes the political tone for councils yet to convene. No more will there be a need to strategize, plot, and plan how one side will win against the other. Months of gathering support on either side will cease. No more political posturing over the sexual mores of an entire diocese.

This action also signals to every LGBTQ Christian that they indeed have a home in the Episcopal Church. The opportunities to serve Christ are open to all without limitations.

The road forward may be rocky but Episcopalians throughout the Diocese can hold fast to the idea of being unified in mission as they seek to engage the communities in which they serve.

S Wayne Mathis
VP of Local Affairs Integrity USA
Co Convener Integrity Houston

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Way We Were

"The way we were" is more than just the title of a hit movie and hit song.  It reflects the way things were, or at least the way we remember things were, during a specific period of time.  I have thought about that frequently during our discussions about the communique from the Primates.

I look back to “the way we were" 70, 60, 50 years ago.  I wasn’t around 70 years ago.  I was a child 60 years ago.  And I was a teenager 50 years ago.  One issue I remember about the way we were is that there were no discussions about human sexuality and certainly none about lesbian and gay issues.  I recall bisexuality being an “exotic” topic.  Christine Jorgenson introduced the world to transgender issues, even though the term itself would not come along for several more decades.

When we recite the creeds, we include phrases about believing in things seen and unseen.  Now that is usually in reference to our Creator, the Holy Spirit or one of the multitude of holy and mysterious things beyond human sight.  Yet I can also see it at work in earthly issues as well.  But, in some cases it works the opposite way: we don’t believe because we can’t or haven’t seen.  Such is the case with human sexuality issues and LGBTQ issues in particular.  Not seeing us is an excuse for thinking we do not exist.  Not seeing us provides justification for exercising bigotry and prejudice… even to the point of torture and execution.

I’ve recalled numerous ordained persons state with all seriousness that there were no "homosexuals" in their parish/diocese/province.  Such is an easy stance to take if that population is not visible, remains fully closeted, lives in fear of discovery or just cannot be public about their existence.  I have even had folks say that they did not know anyone who was "homosexual."  I have to admit that my thoughts, not my words, my thoughts were:  Doesn’t this dimwit know what is standing right in front of him (yes it is usually a male!)  Being able to "pass" has some advantages, especially having people reveal their true thoughts and feelings right in front of you!  Of course it then becomes an educational tool and opportunity as well.

The issue here is visibility. It is not, I repeat not, about whether an area of the world has "progressed" more or less than any other area.  It is not a measure of development as a country or region.  It is certainly not an issue of whether one group of God’s children is more "civilized" than another.  It is simply an issue of visibility.  Again, it is simply an issue of visibility.

So now, let’s turn to the situations that gave birth to the recent statement of the Primates of the Anglican Communion.  Aside from the expressed levels of disdain, judgment, and posturing, there is the issue of visibility, more accurately, the lack of visibility.

We know that there are LGBTQ members of every province in the Anglican Communion.  We also know that many live closeted lives….lives filled with the fear of being found out…..lives immersed in a marinade of hate, bigotry and prejudice.  Ignorance gives birth to hatred, bigotry and prejudice…and it creates an atmosphere of fear on all impacted by the situation.  These sisters and brothers in Christ are not even seen by the very people who denigrate them.

We know from the experiences of others around the globe, secular and faith based, that visibility will change the way our LGBTQ sisters and brothers are perceived and treated.  Right now, many Primates see issues of human sexuality as nothing but an issue.  When that issue gains a human face, the face of a child of God, the conversation begins to change.  It is easy for any of us to just dismiss an issue.  We have a much more difficult time, at least I hope we do, dismissing a human being.

What should we do to assist without being perceived as interfering or continuing to impose some type of colonial view upon those with whom we so vehemently disagree?  Among the first involves educating people, particularly some of the Primates, on the very existence of some of "us" among "them" and having been there for a long time.  We need to find a way to create relationships with those who are so different from us in their thinking and help them see the face of Christ even in a queer.  If they begin to see the face of Christ in us, we can further the process of helping them see the face of Christ among their own flocks.  This will neither be easy nor quick.

I hope and pray that the parishes and dioceses in The Episcopal Church will maintain ties and companion relationships with their counterparts around the communion who seek to walk apart from us. (Despite what some may hope, this issue is not going away.  It will only get more critical over time.)  Those ties and relationships provide an opportunity for us to witness to the presence of Christ in our lives as LGBTQ Christians. They allow us to help make it more safe for others by our own visibility.

I challenge us all, members of Integrity, lay and clergy leaders, all who claim The Episcopal Church as their part of the Body of Christ, to seek out ways locally, church-wide, worldwide to help those who would act out of hatred, cruelty and prejudice begin to see the face of Christ in all…..even those toward whom they would use vile and offensive labels.  Jesus Christ taught us to love and never provided any exceptions as to whom we were to love.  Let us not create what He did not.  Let us be the hands and feet, eyes and ears, heart and soul of the One who loved us and gave His life ransom for all.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

An Open Letter

An open letter to those concerned about the impact of the decisions reached at the recent meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury England.

So, let’s talk amongst ourselves.  What does the statement of the Primates call on us to do?  Aside from our response to their statement, there is more for us to do as members of Integrity, as members of The Episcopal Church, and as followers of Jesus Christ.

The Primates issued their statement with its “consequences” outlined therein.  As you are aware, we, Integrity USA, responded with what was, for all practical purposes, a somewhat “political” response/portion of the discussion.  Yet we have a more important discussion:  the pastoral implications and needs for ourselves and others.

What will we do to provide pastoral support to each other and to our sisters and brothers in less hospitable provinces of the Anglican Communion?

We will continue to "Love one another as I have loved you."

We will continue to "Forgive your enemies and those who hate you."

We will continue to "Forgive 70 times 7."

Why will we do these things?  These are the words Jesus spoke to His followers.  Jesus calls us over this tumult.

Jesus calls us to forgive those who hurt us, those who hate us and seek to injure us whether in body or mind or soul.  If we claim any authenticity as followers of Jesus we must confess that forgiveness is central to our identity as Christians.  These are some of the things we must do if we are to be Jesus people in a Jesus movement.

This calling is now even more important to us as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people as the result of the release of the statement by the Primates. Their words are painful to all LGBTQ people everywhere who know ourselves as beloved children of God. Their words are also painful to The Episcopal Church which has taken the risk of the Gospel in the full inclusion of all God’s children in the sacramental life of the church.

This is not the first time the Primates have inflicted pain on LGBTQ people and The Episcopal Church. I doubt it will be their last attempt. And yet, we will persevere.  We have been to the foot of the cross before and we will be there again.  That is where we find the strength to endure being there. It is where we find redemption, release and healing and the ability to forgive.

We will find forgiveness – 70 times 7. Such is the cost of discipleship.

We will find healing for our broken hearts, for there is a balm in Gilead.

We will find hope for our weary spirits. Such is the promise of the resurrection.  And, like the first disciples, we will find the courage to open the eyes of our hearts to see the fullness of love in the empty tomb.

More importantly, we will share that hope and continue to be a beacon of the unconditional love of God in Christ to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the very provinces where these Primates continue to oppress and persecute them.

The decades of discussion, debate, and attempts to exclude, have given both The Episcopal Church and its LGBTQ members a level of spiritual maturity that allows us to be clear about where we are, who we are, and whose we are.

Our own Primate, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry has and I suspect will continue to remind us that we are Jesus people and part of a Jesus movement.  The President of our House of Deputies, the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, has been clear that we will continue to be part of the Anglican Communion and will fulfill our responsibilities on the Anglican Consultative Council, the more legislative of the instruments of communion.  Integrity USA is in full support of the work and the statements of the two individuals who are the presiding officers and the chief pastors of The Episcopal Church.

So, we have and will continue to endure the cost of discipleship that comes with following what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do.  We can take no other stance if we claim to follow Jesus.  It is a price we have paid and are willing to continue to pay.

The struggle continues. We do not struggle alone.

Bruce Garner
Integrity USA